Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas Cakes

So for Christmas this year, I decided to bake for everyone instead of buying gifts. With 6 kids, 4 immediate family members and L's family, gifts were too expensive. Plus there's the whole "it's the thought that counts" thing - it was my hope that people would much more appreciate me taking my time and enjoying making the gift than buying something a store promoted and told me they would like. On top of that, now that I've got a few decorating tricks under my belt, I am working on learning to make amazing "from scratch" cakes.

So anyway, here was my Christmas gift list: a Kahlua cake for Mom, Herd Thanksgiving and L's brother. For Little Brother, an easy bake oven (which really fits into the theme but is more his style than actual dessert). Tiramisu - which I've never made before - for big brother's girlfriend, brownies for big brother, root beer popsicle for Dad, a cupcake wreath for L's parents, and two designs for my not-quite sister's families (really close friends of the family - closest thing to sisters I had).

Some failures - the Tiramisu had too much liquid and was runny. On the other hand, the taste was good so that rest is an easy fix. I never got to make Dad's popsicles even though by the time I got home I had perfected them. He's gone almost every day, but I wanted to wait to make them so he wouldn't see them. Wouldn't you know that he stayed up really late Christmas Eve watching movies and spent all of Christmas day in the kitchen while I baked. Although he said my being home and spending time with him was enough of a present (I know, sappy) I am still disappointed. I will definitely make them another time. I hope big brother liked the brownies. He likes them hard, which I find weird, but I tried anyway.

All of my Kahlua cakes were HUGE hits. I am learning how to make everything from scratch and apparently this new, denser version is MUCH BETTER than the old box version. People went back for seconds, thirds even.

Then there were the decorative cakes. One family has an open house each year where they display their Christmas village, so I played off that. That and their huge yellow lab. The other family likes bright colors and fun designs, so I used my new paisley pan on the top and stuck with blue, green and pink instead of traditional red, green and white. As far as the wreath cake, I was told over and over that it was too beautiful to eat. I had to beg someone to take a cupcake so others would join in and they wouldn't go stale. Enjoy the pictures!

front back

The leaves on top are made from using fresh mint leaves as a mold for melted white chocolate. The berries are made from M&Ms.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Pumpkin Project - Part 3

This part 3 has been long in the making but let me tell you - it's worth it!!

So, I bought a pumpkin. Not a small, pretty pie-pumpkin - no, they were out of those. This was a big, ugly green thing. But I was assured this is what companies use to make their pumpkin purees. It was also a spur of the moment purchase. I went out to lunch with a good friend, watched a Tech game and then headed to Sinkland Farms to look for some kettle corn. Wound up with a pumpkin instead. And so the pumpkin project continued.

To get the darned thing open was ridiculous

Yes, that's a knife. Then that didn't work and I went to the saw. Then I jammed scissors in there and hammered them in. Then I kept switching between all three until I could pry it open. That took a good 40 minutes.

Once it was open, I covered it and baked it for, let's try to remember, I think about an hour and a half. I just kept checking it to see when it was done. I got a lot of great tips from on how to cut, cook, puree, and use my yummy pumpkin flesh.

While that was going roasting, I prepared the seeds which I saved when gutting the pumpkin. I've never made roasted pumpkin seeds before so I figured I'd go ahead and try it. Let's just say they weren't bad but I'm also not a huge fan of sunflower seeds. I think I would have liked them if I were a general seed fan but I find that I just don't know how to eat them. Do you eat the whole seed or spit them out? I just don't get it.
I didn't add any salt and just used butter/pumpkin pie spice to flavor them. If they were saltier I would have liked them a bit more, but I still would have just sucked off the salt/spices and spit them out so really it wouldn't have changed a thing!

So then, using mostly the recipe from I made a delicious SUGAR FREE pumpkin pie, using the pumpkin puree I scooped from my own pumpkin. It was so incredibly satisfying so know I made this - except that I used a frozen crust. Shhhh.

Sugar-free, no preservatives or other fillers pumpkin Pumpkin Pie!
(these amounts are only for fresh pumpkin because of the water content. I wouldn't use this for canned pumpkin)

3 cups pumpkin puree
3/4 cups of honey (more to taste - that's the sweetener)
*2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
4 large eggs
18 oz of evaporated milk (1.5 cans of 12oz size)
1 tsp vanilla extract

*the recipe called for separate cloves/cinnamon/allspice/ginger or 4 tsp of pumpkin pie spice but I didn't think it had enough spice so I added more to get to 2 TBS. I also added 1/2 tsp extra vanilla extract and did not add the salt- which was optional anyway.

Blend everything together, pour it into 2 pie crusts - bake at 425F for 15 minutes then 350F for about 45 mins to an hour. Test it using a blunt knife and it should come out completely clean.

This came out absolutely delicious, as confirmed by other friends and coworkers. I know people shy away from things that are sugar free because you're afraid it will have no taste but trust me this was wonderful!

This project has turned out to be something truly inspiring!!!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Turning 25

(Don't mind the two types of maroon and orange.
It clashed together but looked good separately.)

It's hard, you know, to go to college 7 hours away from friends and family. When I was a freshman, my early birthday meant I had few close friends and would probably be a little lonely. Luckily, I had one friend go to dinner with me - in the dining hall. Then my mom called my cousin and asked him to have a party for me. It was a wonderful birthday with him, his roommates and their friends. Ah, 19.

Then I turned 20 and being the lover of a good time, I invited 50 people over to our huge apartment. I did all the shopping, all the cooking, all the mixing. It was a great time, but terribly expensive and quite tiring.

When I turned 21, none of my friends were 21. Even though there are tons of places in town where "unders" could go, nobody would come down town with me. All I wanted was to go buy one beer in a bar. That didn't happen and I actually didn't get to celebrate my birthday at all.

22, 23, 24 - spent with L. We weren't dating yet when I turned 22, but he was there. 23 and 24 he made dinner and cake and we stayed in. They were lovely evenings, don't get me wrong. I do love to stay in.

This year, I decided turning 25 was the time when I would really celebrate myself. I deserved a vacation, a party, a re-dedication to things I love. So my mom, my godmother, little brother, three friends from high school and two friends from college all went to Massanutten resort in McGaheysville, VA. It was such an awesome time!

I took off Friday and met my mom and godmother at the resort around 12:30. Little brother came around 4. We all hung out, caught up, played with my new KINDLE (gift from L), and baked. Yes, I made some of my own birthday cake but it truly was one of the things I wanted to do on my birthday. Plus my mom made a second cake, so that one counts. My cousin and his wife don't live too far from the resort so they joined us for dinner. Other than hitting a deer in their Tahoe (which was fine, as were we) it was an awesome night. Buffet dinner, casting zings in each others' directions. Great family love.

Two friends arrived Friday night. Of course we stayed up late talking and catching up. Oh and learning that there are 58 different TYPES of bones in the human body. We played with 4S' Siri. We ate.

Saturday another friend arrived in the morning. We all played mini-golf in the afternoon. I came in 4th out of 7, but I was also the only person to get a hole-in-one! Woo-hoo! The vista from the mini-golf course was just amazing! Peak of fall colors, which we already know I love, and just so high up.

As if mini-golfing and hanging out wasn't enough, I got to cross something off my bucket list. WE WENT ZIP-LINING! I have always wanted to go and the resort offered it at a reasonable price so we went. It was so fun - four high-ropes elements and four zip lines: small practice one, one we had to go off backwards, one we sat down to get off the platform and the last we could run and jump off of. It was so much fun and I would definitely do it again. The guides were funny and reminded T and I of river guides - which it turned out one of them was. We had a really great time.
Although I haven't uploaded it, here's a VIDEO of our last zip line.

So that took a lot out of us, but it was so worth it. We relaxed a while at home and got ready for karaoke dinner! Little Brother and I sang "You're So Vain" and "Friends in Low Places" while I tried to eat buffalo chicken on a kaiser roll. Unfortunately there was simply not enough roll for the chicken so I only finished about half of it. It was still really good. The final two friends came that night after the Tech game. We stayed up late talking, laughing, dancing.

Late nights and early mornings. It was an amazing birthday weekend and I hope that leads into a wonderful year. Here's to the nights we felt alive.

A Pumpkin Project - Part 2

I know I left you with a cliff hanger about those pumpkin Cheerios and let me tell you - you have to try it!! I used the same pumpkin milk from the Pumpkin Spice Coffee recipe, still without the sugar, and uses that as my milk poured over plain Cheerios. It just made such a wonderful fall-tasting breakfast and I really enjoyed it.

Then today I made mashed sweet potato for the first time. I skinned it and boiled it, added salt, pepper, butter and milk, and mashed it like I would regular potatoes. I like lumpy potatoes so I didn't mash very long. It was really, really good. BUT THEN I MADE IT BETTER! I added some canned pumpkin puree to the mashed sweet and re-heated. I am sure the taste was just sweeter than it would be if you mashed pumpkin alone - but I've never done that and don't really plan on it. This was a great and EASY way to incorporate pumpkin into dinner. Paired it with some grilled ham steak and green beans. If there is one thing that makes any dinner better it's being extremely colorful on my plate! Pink, green and orange? Well, they didn't really go well together but it was still fun looking.

Stay sweet

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Pumpkin Project - Part 1

So I have had this can of pumpkin puree for a year - I bought a couple during last year's "pumpkin shortage." The only problem is, L isn't a big pumpkin fan so my thoughts of pumpkin pie and pumpkin roll just never came to be. Then I fell in love with pumpkin spice lattes. I've decided this is my year to discover new pumpkin recipes - cookies, lattes, breads - anything and everything.

Attempt 1:
Pumpkin Spice Latte which became Pumpkin Spice Coffee (what really makes something a latte, anyway?)

1 tbs pumpkin puree
1 cup milk (I used 1%, whole would make it thicker and, if I had it, I would try almond or something similar)
1/2 tbs vanilla extract (I used imitation because I need to finish it so I can open my pure but pure would be better)
1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 cup strong coffee (I used half-caff)
1 tbs half and half
sugar to taste, whipped cream for the top and a sprinkle of nutmeg for aesthetics

This is a combo-recipe of a few I found. Except it's late-ish, I've worked all day and have tests to grade so lets say I made a lazy version of my own recipe.

Mix together pumpkin, milk, vanilla, and spice. I don't have a milk frother and didn't feel like getting out my mixer and whisk, so I used a fork to make it "frothy." Didn't really work. Anyway, heat it up in the microwave about 2 minutes.

Add half the new "pumpkin milk" to the coffee. Stir in the half and half. Put the rest of the milk in the fridge for tomorrow. Add sugar - I forgot this part and I'm only in the living room but I like what I have so I'm not going into the kitchen for sugar. I also don't have any whipped cream - which is clearly optional anyway. I couldn't find the nutmeg. Remember, I said I'm tired.

So what I've ended with is a delicious pumpkin spice coffee. Love it, really. So now I need to decide what to do with the rest of the pumpkin milk. Of course, I could make more pumpkin coffee in the morning. Or - I am thinking of using it in a bowl of plain Cheerios - delicious or disastrous? I'll let you know ;)

Love you Pumpkin ;)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Easy TASTY Turkey Burgers

Last time I tried to make turkey burgers, I tried all sorts of fancy things: stuffing them with avocado and spices. It just didn't work out. They were good but they still didn't have a lot of flavor. So instead tonight I decided to try it one more time. This time, a definite success. Easy, too. Here's what you need:

ground turkey
steak sauce
Adobo (my favorite spice)

Put 'em together and grill 'em up! Simple is always better. The steak sauce gave it that "beefy" taste without making it too wet.

Here's to trying everything twice!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Irony or Injustice?

A tragic irony of life is that we so often achieve success or financial independence after the chief reason for which we sought it has passed away.
Ellen Glasgow

At first, I thought it was just ironic. I can't consolidate my private loans because I don't have good enough credit or a strong enough cosigner. They can't be sure I can afford my monthly payments. Who do they think has been paying my current loans, which are higher than they would be if I could consolidate? Me! I haven't missed or been late on a payment since I started paying them back! Then, I tried to consolidate my federal loans. They have an income-based repayment plan for people who join lower-paying careers such as public service (so, teaching). Here's the thing though: if I was just a teacher, I would qualify. Because I also work at a grocery store in order to make ends meet, I no longer qualify for lower payments.

At first, I thought this was quite ironic. Then I spoke to my dad who got me thinking that it may be nearer to injustice. When I was starting college, I didn't qualify for scholarships or grants because he made too much money. With all the property we own, in NJ no less, and his 3 children - we really don't have a lot of money at all. He especially did not have a significant amount to contribute to college payments. So instead I put 5 years of out-of-state Virginia Tech payments on student loan. Now I'm broke (but not complaining - if you follow along you know I love my life!!) and trying to get just a little help. I know that the gov't will pay back some of my loans after I complete 5 years in a low-income school system, but they won't actually pay that until I've completed it.

Okay, so like I said I'm not complaining. I am, however, wondering about the state of things. Like my dad says, nobody will loan you money until they're sure you don't need it. Isn't that always the way it works? If a person works more than one job because they need to pay bills, then they might not qualify for government assistance. Yet the people who would rather sit around and be lazy, they gladly welcome their supplements each month. Is that fair? We are punishing those who really give it their all - to go to school, to work full time and part time jobs at the same time, to do everything on little sleep - and rewarding those that don't. Now, I do understand multiple sides here. I absolutely know there are people deserving of assistance and I do wholeheartedly agree with giving it to them. I also know that some people, like myself, make their life harder by choice. I chose to go to Tech, knowing I would pay back student loans until I retire. Do I regret it? Not a day in my life! I had amazing experiences and met the wonderful L because I was here. Heck, I got two degrees in five years and I'm still living in this area. I could not have pictured myself going anywhere else.
I'll take a second to tell those of you who don't know about my college-Cinderella story. I first came to Tech my sophomore year of high school to visit my cousin E. I knew then that this is where I needed to be. As soon as I stepped on campus, there was no doubt in my mind that I would be a Hokie. When it came time to applying, I applied to Tech, one safety school in case I didn't get in anywhere else, and one in-state school to please my dad. I wasn't too worried - I knew Tech would be my home. Home sweet home. :)

Anyway, I just think it's pretty unfair that I see so many people who can't scrape together two dimes while they remain honest and fair, but yet so many people are making thousands selling blow, meth, or themselves on street corners and are still getting assistance from the government. A few bad apples definitely ruin the bunch, but it is really upsetting that it's allowed to happen.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Wrestling Cake

This was my first "for sale" cake that I've made - if you don't count the store selling my cakes in the bakery. It was soooo heavy, two 1/4 sheets of yellow cake (a box mix which I doctored by adding pudding, extra oil, and beating the room-temperature eggs like I do with homemade cake), fresh-cut strawberries in the middle, covered with chocolate frosting. Then I melted white chocolate to make the wrestling mat, used pretzel rods for the posts and Twizzler pull and peels for the ropes. I used icing as the turnbuckles to hold the ropes on.

One tough part was figuring out how much to charge. This ended up being a $30 cake - mainly because the person I was doing it for doesn't have a whole lot of money anyway. After buying the supplies and then spending hours making it, turns out I only paid myself a little over a dollar an hour. I think if I did it again, I would charge more, but it's not really about making money (yet). For now I'm still trying to create a portfolio of cakes and hone my skills so eventually I can turn it into a small side business. I hope to intern at a bakery at some point so I can really learn some skills from the pros. For now I will enjoy dabbling, playing, watching youtube, and learning through error. It might not be perfect, but I was pretty happy with how it turned out :)

Why I love fall :)

"If God isn't a Hokie, then why do the leaves turn maroon and orange in the fall?"

Reason 1: Atmosphere
I love the colors of the leaves as they change. Not only do most of them turn maroon and orange, but it just gives such beauty to my long drives (35 mins to work or 7 hours home, they're all long drives). Everything reminds me of Virginia Tech, of God's work, and just renews my love of life. I know spring is the season that breathes new life in the world, but doesn't that make fall Grandmother of Wisdom? Sure, everything may be old, and a lot of it is probably falling apart, but with all of that comes so much power and hope that we shall be in that position one day.

I also LOVE the crisp air that comes with fall. Chilly, cold, and not something I feel like I can eat - as opposed to last week when the air was so thick and humid I didn't need to drink any glasses of water. It reminds me of being a kid and going troop camping at Camp Mosey Wood. I love waking up in a tent to cold air, seeing my breath. I used to call it "my air" and wondered so many times if there was a way to bottle it up and hold on to it forever. I go back to that place every year :)

As I was walking to my car on the way home from work this evening, I couldn't help but wish I was coming back to the football game. This weather is just perfect for long sleeves, hot cider, and football.

Reason 2: Activities
Football. My favorite sport. Pro, college, high school: they all have their wonders. How exciting is it to cheer on your teem with hundreds or thousands of people who have the same goal? I love it. Sports in general bring people together and it is so amazing to me how winning a game really means so much more than that.

I also want to go to a farm. I want to run through a corn maze, take a tractor ride to the pumpkins or through a haunted forest. I want to eat a hot dog and drink hot cider. I want to buy a whole gallon of farm-fresh cold cider. I want to sit outside with a pumpkin latte, pumpkin roll, or anything pumpkin related and just enjoy.

Reason 3: It's almost winter.
I love Christmas - it's my favorite holiday. I love snow. I love being with family. I love my birthday, L's birthday and our anniversary. I love Thanksgiving. Everything I love about fall is so much better because I know it doesn't go away when it's done, it just goes into another wonderful season. And tonight, L has stuck in my head "shall I play for him? pa rum pa pum pum. On my drum"

Enjoy your time :)

PS This is why I could never live anywhere other than a 4-season state. I love the seasons. Their changes make me happy with what's to come and I would really miss that anywhere else.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Month in Review

I've been absent all month - vacationing in New Jersey and at a Girl Scout Camp. Here's a just a look into everything that went down and my proof that I really am living well!

~KnJ's wedding was amazing! Although this dress, one of the shortest I own, is now hanging in my closet among the near 27 others I am still constantly reliving those times. The bachelorette weekend and the wedding in Virginia Beach meant I spent tons of time having loads of fun! I forget how great it is to relax with some really amazing people. I felt so safe, secure and confidant because those are the types of people I surround myself with. It is such a great honor that people choose me to help celebrate and represent them at their weddings.

Time with my nephew:
~In the short month I had with EK, we had tremendous breakthroughs. A kid who is afraid of swimming and not trusting enough to take off his swimmies is now jumping into shallow water with no goggles and without holding his nose. He has a strong kick and can show me his long arms. He will definitely be a strong swimmer.
~When I first got home, he wouldn't even say good morning. I'm not into constantly forcing kids to use manners. Instead I help them see how bad I feel when he doesn't respond to me and just show him positive interactions using the rest of our family. Now when I walk down in the morning, if he says good morning and I don't respond he says, "Auntie Brynn! Good morning!" until I specifically address him. Then out of nowhere he became an excellent sharer, asked me to teach him how to blow bubbles with gum and wouldn't leave my side. Then, before I left, he made sure I have his mom's number so that I can call him throughout the year.
I am sure going to miss that little boy. I hope he knows how much I love him and how proud I am of him, even if he doesn't hear those words enough to know what they mean.

~I spent 2 weeks at a camp that is not my "home camp" - it's not the one I attended for years as a camper, went through CIT and Junior Counselor, working my way onto staff and into a management position. Instead, this is a camp I had never worked at. By the end of the two weeks, I remembered what I had felt years before in those long months between summers: camp is not a location. It is a group of people, feelings you all share, memories you create and an entity deep inside you. The physical attributes, the people and the places, they may change constantly but Camp never changes.
~I learned how to make orange cake - baked right inside oranges! How exciting of a dessert would that be? I cannot wait to make it for some "dinner party" or appropriate event during the year. The only change is that I will make it in my oven instead of over a campfire. Sigh.

~I love spending time with my family. We joke, we have fun and we love each other. We play Scrabble, eat Italian food, swim, watch movies, go to picnics, drink coffee...the list goes on and on. I hope to soon live closer to home because I love being able to be near them. I miss them already.

All in all, it was an amazing month at home. Seeing friends and family and living the good life. For all the crap I put up with sometimes, nothing compares to the positives in my life right now.

Love, love.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Why YOU need MATH

"Plato, whose mathematical knowledge was broadly up to date, could converse with the mathematicians as an equal and a problem presenter, even though his personal mathematical achievements were not significant."- Taken from is God a mathematician? by Mario Livio.

This is something I try to instill in my students constantly. They don't need to be amazing mathematicians in order to be good at math, nor do they have to be straight-A math students to contribute to mathematical discussion. Here's something else I tell my students:
"The science of figures, to a certain degree, is not only indispensably requisite in every walk of civilized life; but investigation of mathematical truths accustoms the mind to method and correctness in reasoning, and is an employment peculiarly worthy of rational being."
Okay, I don't say it in these words. George Washington said this (as taken from is God a mathematician?). More than 230 years ago, good ol' George Washington realized the importance of math in everyday life.

Okay so WHY is this important? Why am I talking about Plato and George Washington? How is this relevant to today? Well yesterday I saw a mud-slinging campaign commercial, saying that since Obama took office, unemployment has risen 20% and gas 110%. To be honest, I have never looked at the figures for unemployment. It's fair to say that I haven't studied gas prices either, but I drive and I do know my math. Around this time last year, gas was almost $4 a gallon (in southwest Virginia - don't pull the "oh our gas is so much more in ___ because it counts as part of your cost of living being higher and therefor your pay directly varies. In plain English: you get paid more so you can afford higher gas). Then gas prices went down to well below $3, went back up, and now sits around $2.29. Okay, so it has gone up and down, but that's all within Obama's administration. Well, according to CNN, in May of 2008 (that's right, before Obama) gas prices hit $3.75 and were still rising. That's the same as what's happened these last 3 years. Gas goes up - gas goes down.

Sort of lost? Maybe you're still following but this is what it boils down to: if something increases by 100%, that means you take the original amount and double it. If gas has risen by more than 100% that would mean it has more than doubled. Clearly, this is not the case. This is where statistics become misleading. Gas has increased by 110%, but I don't know to which year they are comparing these statistics. Heck, gas has risen- well, what percent is $4 out of $0 - such as when we drove horse and buggies! How ridiculous is it to fake statistics like this? This is in no way pro- or anti- Obama or any other way political. This is merely a pro-mathematics rant.

YOU NEED MATH to be an intelligent, responsible and active citizen of this fair country. You need to be able to watch TV, read the newspaper, and take in information all around you, analyze it, and create your own, well-informed decisions.

This is one among billions of ways that I use math every day. You do, too.

Be mathy!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Finding a Mantra

So I read an article yesterday about a woman who uses a mantra (repetition of a word or short phrase) to help her get through life. When she stresses, when she is working out, when life gets to be too much, she repeats "I embrace life" over and over until her feelings have passed and she is renewed. That is what has started my current experiment.

I used a mantra once, for a short period of time. I looked into the mirror every morning and repeated "you are beautiful" 3 or so times. You know what? I have transformed into a very powerful and confidant woman. I don't know if it's a direct result of my morning ritual, but that really helped me get out of a pretty dark period in my life.

I currently have trouble controlling my thoughts and anxiety: they keep me awake at night, I invent fights with people that aren't really happening and I find myself getting really overwhelmed by certain circumstances. (On a side note, I will say I am starting to master the art of instantly de-stressing the moment the ball is out of my court. Between state tests,
benchmark exams, work situations, etc. I stress, stress, stress and then as soon
as the time has come and I can't do anything more, I'm done stressing. I have
realized it's pointless to keep stressing when I have done all I can.) I also need help powering through workouts, cleaning my house, and generally getting motivated to do anything.

I have decided to try a mantra. Last night, as my thoughts raced, I tried a few different mantras: "Just breathe", "I've got this", even "Find a mantra". Mm, not really liking those yet. The article said the mantra should be results oriented, but my needs are varied. It should be positive ("I am strong" instead of "I am not weak"), which isn't a problem, think the best of yourself ("I am healthy" instead of "I will try to be healthy"), and have a rhythm.

I think I am going to try "I am living well" to help me through things. When I need to say NO to snacks: I am living well. When I need to clean my house: I am living well. When I need to sleep or de-stress, I am living well. If I just need to keep running: I am living well.

This is the beginning of my new experiment. I will keep you posted as to how it goes.

Live well, friends!

**Update just a few hours later:

I need to add this recent development about why I love my the saying I chose. I took an hour today to lay out in the sun reading a book. My new mantra instantly popped into my head: I am living well. Not only can I use my mantra to help push me through the tough times, it also serves as a reminder to not take the good in my life for granted. There is a lot of good and I love to thank God for it. Saying that I am living well brings me closer to God - it serves as the beginning of prayer. I LOVE that aspect of it. Also, because I can use it during the good times and can use it so often throughout every day, I think it will be easier to remember to use it when times are tough. also LOVE that aspect! So powerful!

Monday, June 27, 2011

2 Relatively Successful Cake Experiments

So last week I completed two cake experiments: and ice cream cake and a fondant covered cake. Here's how they went:
The ice cream cake was first. I was asked if I was able to make one and said I never had but could attempt it. Well, the woman changed her mind (it would have been too hard to transfer nicely from an hour away anyway) but it really got me thinking. I wanted to make an ice cream cake and started looking around. I didn't want to just stack ice cream with fudge. I wanted true cake + ice cream. I also wanted some aspect of it to be homemade. I had a cherry chip cake mix in the cabinet, so I started there. I made the cake according to the box and baked it. I read online how people went about freezing their cakes. One woman said she flips hers AS SOON as it comes out of the oven and puts it directly in the freezer. Well, I know this isn't a great idea but if I didn't try flipping immediately I would have constantly wondered if that would have been better. Turns out, it wasn't.
Clearly, it fell apart. But! that didn't deter me. It was just an experiment so I didn't really care much about how it looked. I froze it from here and continued to work with it.
While that was freezing, I made the ice cream. I knew I didn't want it to be just ice cream because it would be too hard after freezing. So I combined vanilla ice cream with Cool Whip (next time I might try making my own whipped cream?) and then blended together frozen blueberries and cherries. I put that back into the freezer to harden while I "cut" the cake in half (it more or less fell appart among fault lines you can sort of see there). Then I layered cake, ice cream, and more cake. I froze that back up and then covered it with some remaining whipped cream. It might not have looked very pretty, but it tasted delicious.

Next I started making a bachelorette cake for a friend. I decided I wanted to attempt to cover a cake in fondant, to make a two-tiered cake, and to try a lace pattern. The cake was supposed to be sort of classy but still fun.
The top tier I made out of two 6-inch cakes. I wanted them to be sort of thick so I filled them quite a bit - but that also meant I had to cut off quite a bit of the rounded top. It was hard to get it perfectly level, but really I could have gotten my small leveler out of the work closet. Oh well. I then made some of the fondant blue and cut strips. It was hard to keep them even because I don't have any fondant cutting tools and so it kept pulling. I knew I wanted a man popping out of the top, but darn it if Ken dolls are hard to find and more expensive than Barbie. Plus, they're too big to put into the top. I found this wrestler instead - luckily they're already topless! I made his bow tie and the garter for his hand, ripped off his legs and then stuck him in there!
The bottom tier I made using 3 8-inch cakes, each made real thin to avoid too much rounding. I guess I forgot to mention above that I mixed blue food coloring in one 6 inch tin and green in the other to make a tie-dye-ish cake. Here I layered blue, green, blue. All layers had butter cream in the middle. After layering the cakes, I covered them with buttercream and froze them again. Then I pulled out each tier and let them warm up just enough to make the icing tacky. While waiting for it to warm, I flavored my fondant using coconut rum (an ingrediant I also put into the cake in place of half the water). I then rolled out the fondant to about a quarter inch thickness and tried to make it circular, about the diameter equal to the diamter of the cake and twice the height (so here about 14 inches). Still needs work but I was happy with how well I did for the first time. I used my rolling pin to lift the fondant onto the cake. I smoothed it out using my hands - I have no fondant smoother. It didn't get as smooth as I would have liked though. I think I had too much buttercream on the outside of the cake. I didn't have any air bubbles but the fondant was still lumpy because of the excess of icing.
I tried a few different lace patterns on cake board before deciding on this one. I used the buttercream to draw the scrolls on the side of the cake. Again, not great but I was still happy with how it turned out. I put edible pearls in all of the places where multiple scrolls touched. Then on the top I wrote "One more fling before the ring" although it came otu a little messy because my icing was really warm. I had placed the top tier to figure out where to write, but then took it off for transport (about 8 hours).
When we got to the hotel where we were staying, I put it all together. Everybody loved it, bride included. I got a bunch of comments like "I've always heard fondant tastes gross but this is delicious!" and "At work we always pull off the fondant before serving wedding cakes because it's too much - but you have the perfect amount." I guess this was a job well done!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

What I've Learned

I last wrote in October and these are just a few things I've learned since then:
First - The things they didn't tell me far outdo the things they did tell me:
1) Nobody told me that I would need to take a nap every day when I got home. I have been told, now that it's all over with, that this is a symptom of first-year teaching. However, I put so much of myself into every day that I don't know when I will ever "get use to it." It is so tiring to be constantly monitoring children, answering 2 questions you prepared for and 3 you didn't (all at the same time), rearranging examples and lessons in my head and in general being constantly on my toes - in both the literal and figurative senses. I love the fast-paced world of teaching but it is so emotionally and mentally draining that it often pulls from the physical also. Chores? Ha! Making dinner? Bah! I often neglected every other aspect of my life because I was just too darned tired! Nobody told me that.
2) Nobody told me that I wasn't supposed to put books on my bookshelf. This is just one of the general, procedural knowledge nuggets that people take for granted that the new people would know. As a veteran, you know how to set-up your room at the beginning of the year and how to clean it up at the end. Ideas such as not putting books on shelves that need to be moved for floor waxing - well those just didn't occur to me. I thought I was nearly done with my books and had arranged them neatly when the principal happened to mention in passing to "be sure your books are stacked on your counters." I didn't know that when I was given grades of transfer students, they wouldn't be entered into the grade book by the guidance / resource counselor who takes care of every other aspect of grades and reports. I didn't know I had to print report cards out by assignment and with a signature line. Nobody told me that.
Second - Reading is relaxing, unless you're at a really exciting part.
I love to read and I have neglected it for far too long. I have read about 5 books in the last 8 months and still have 5 more to go before I go on another book-buying binge. (I also have plenty of other un-read books on my shelf that I don't consider my "must reads" of now.) It is so hard to read during the school year because it keeps me up at night. I always need to know what happens next and feel compelled to read "just one more" chapter. It's also a lot more fun to read when other people have also read the book, so I think I am going to start blogging about the books I read and hopefully will find people to respond. So far I can write about Beautiful Lies, Secret Life of Bees, House Rules, The Help, and another book whose title happens to escape me at the moment.
That takes me to the third thing I've learned:
Just because I'm a math person doesn't mean I can't write - it just means I can't spell.
I want to write a blog - a more specific blog. But I realize it also can't be forced because then I have interest in writing. Clearly I can't keep up with something just on whims. I just helped my boyfriend write his resume - believe me I can make working at a grocery store sound like the most important job you've ever held. I would love to write a book - but about what? I just love writing. Everybody assumes that you are either a numbers person or a words person, but why can't you be both? I would also like to pick up some sort of freelance writing job, but I wouldn't really know where to begin. Really, is it possible to get paid for all of your passions? Teaching, writing and cakes? Can I combine them all into one? Hmm.
Oh and the spelling thing - I love playing Scrabble. I know plenty of winning words but it's the darndest thing: I can't spell worth a lick. Oh well, that will maybe come with time.
Well that would be it for now. Luck to you and luck for me!